City College supporters protest state takeover and the agenda behind it

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City College supporter gather outside the US Department of Education.
Joe Fitzgerald

By Dalton Amador

Around 350 students, faculty members and other San Franciscans marched from City College’s downtown campus to the U.S. Department of Education Tuesday afternoon to protest the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior College’s (ACCJC) decision to terminate City College’s accreditation effective July 31, 2014.

The Save CCSF Coalition sponsored the event. “We are not here to mourn, we are here to fight,” Shanell Williams, City College’s newly elected student trustee and one of the leaders of the coalition, told a cheering crowd. “ACCJC is a private, rogue group.”

The coalition sought to convince the Department of Education, which oversees the ACCJC, to immediately reverse the commission’s decision.

Behind Aztec dancers dressed in feathers and loincloths, protesters chanted “No more deception, no more lies, we don’t want to privatize” and held picket signs that read “Stop the corporate overthrow of public education at CCSF” as they marched down Market Street.

The coalition said that revoking City College’s accreditation is part of a systematic effort to undermine affordable education. Eric Blanc, one of the coalition’s leaders and a current City College student, said that the ACCJC’s decision to terminate City College’s accreditation was motivated in part by forcing would-be transfer students to take out student loans for private or for-profit universities.

“It’s clear that from the arbitrary norms the commission is using as its excuse to shut down City College that there is something much bigger going on,” he said. “(Students) are going to go to the University of Phoenix or prison.”

Williams agreed. “Where would I go?” she said, referring to a hypothetical City College student’s hope to transfer to a California State University or University of California campus without first going to a private university.  

City College Board of Trustees members Chris Jackson, Vice President Anita Grier and Rafael Mandelman addressed the crowd in front of the Department of Education.

Grier said that the “democratic process” that elected the Board of Trustees was “replaced by a feudal lord dictator,” referring to the ACCJC-appointed Special Trustee Robert Agrella, who now holds unilateral power over the board following the ACCJC’s decision. He had canceled a meeting scheduled for that day by President John Rizzo.

Supervisors Scott Wiener and David Campos also spoke, both saying that many of their constituents depend on City College. “Where is Ed Lee?” the crowd chanted spontaneously during different speakers’ addresses.

Lee did address the City College situation earlier in the day when he asked about it at the Board of Supervisors meeting, reiterating his previous statements supporting a state takeover. “It’s been a difficult decision and we had been hoping the decision of the accrediting commission would be different,” Lee said, going on to praise California Community College Chancellor Brice Harris, who Lee said, “has agreed to save City College through a state intervention.”

But on the streets, protesters rued the loss of local control and the agenda behind it.

Some independent organizations, not part of the Save CCSF Coalition, participated to show their support. Adam Wood, a firefighter of 18 years, held a sign that said, “San Francisco Firefighters support City College.”

“A lot of aspiring firefighters go through fire academy at City College,” he said. “It would be a real loss if it closed.”

City College will remain open for the following fall and spring semesters. It can ask for a review of the decision to the ACCJC. Should the ACCJC affirm its decisions, the college can appeal. The college would remain open during the appeal process.